Movie Reviews

Wrestling Observer

by David Meltzer

Reversal: The Movie

While this has no connection to pro wrestling, the movie “Reversal,” which has won awards at some independent film festivals, is the best wrestling feature film I’ve ever seen.

The movie (which is being released straight to video/DVD on 12/24) is labor of love by producer and star James Petulla, based on his own ups and downs in his relationship with his father, and examining his high school years and his dedication to the sport of wrestling. The movie won the Audience Choice Award at the Malibu Film Festival and an Outstanding Achievement in Film making as well as Petulla winning Best Actor award at the Indie Vision Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

In the movie, Petulla gives a hell of a performance, largely playing the role of his real-life father. Based in Washington County, PA, a Pittsburgh suburb, Petulla plays a former State Champion High School Wrestler who works at a dead end job in the coal mines and lives through his son, who he has trained from childhood in his sport. Unable to take wrestling any farther because he got married and had children young, he trained his oldest son and formed a special bond with him in wrestling from young age, all geared to him being a state champion like him, but using it as his way to get into college that he wasn’t able to do. In his father’s value structure, the only way out of the coal mines was to get college degree, and the only way to afford to get in to a good college is by getting a wrestling scholarship. His son had it drummed in his head that he needed to win the State Championship to get a scholarship to Oklahoma.

But the movie offers far more depth about real-life issues than just wrestling. Examined in the movie are the dedication required not only to wrestle at the top level, but even more, the sometimes dangerous weight cutting methods that were standard operating procedure for decades among wrestlers, fighters and all other athletes who compete in sports divided into weight classes. They also examine a teenager’s first real relationship and the nature of high school relationships, and the sacrifices made as far as having fun as a teenager by an athlete dedicated to competing at the top level in such a difficult sport. Also examined is the father, living through his sons athletic accomplishmentswhich keeps him going with the dead end job and staying with a wife that he can no longer deal with. There is the portrayal of the unhappy mother, who doesn;t like the wrestling that binds them together, and understands little of the demands. She shows so little compassion for what either is going through that she constantly offers junk food to her so, even on days he’s dieting down to make his weight class, and the demands as he is growing and trying to maintain an abnormally low bodyweight. It also examines the issue of a parent coaching his son at a high school level, as they introduce a hotshot wrestler in the same weight class who moved into town, and Petulla’s character continually tries to avoid his son having to match up against him for fear he would lose, and thus to be able to represent the school in the post-season competition.

It’s those issues, as well as the realistic portrayal of cutting weight, replenishing weight and wrestling, that people who have never been in that position wouldn’t understand. The extreme measures used and its dangers will both shock and touch the viewer. The movie also does not have the expected Hollywood ending.

The DVD for the movie features glowing reviews from people like Kurt Angle, Danny Hodge, and Sting from pro wrestling, who were invited to the premiere, as well as sports stars like Carl Lewis and Shannon Miller and amateur wrestlers like Cael Sanders and Kenny Monday.

There is nothing in this movie that would directly appeal to a pro wrestling fan, because it was real, from the heart, and produced to touch on a lot of the conflicts that go on in real life. My fiance, who is not a fan of either pro or amateur wrestling, like it as much as I did, and thought it was the best movie we had seen in a long time. It is a must-see for any parent who wants their child to compete in sports at a high level. And it goes without saying that any fan of amateur wrestling will like it. Ultimately, while the movie paid tribute to Petulla’s father, it’s portrayal of parenting ended up with the father getting the most valuable lesson of all at the end.

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